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Private Schools


Contributed by Lee Freeman on 13 Aug 2006

Mars Hill Academy for Males and Females was founded in 1871 by Tennessee native and famed Christian Church/Church of Christ evangelist Theophilus Brown "T. B." Larimore (1843-1929) on twenty-one acres of land about five miles Northwest of Florence (on what is now Cox Creek Parkway.) The land was inherited by his first wife, Julia Esther Gresham, from her father's, Philemon Gresham's, estate. Larimore was assisted in this task by Esther's brother-in-law, John Andrew Thompson Esq., (ca. 1831-1873) an Irish immigrant and Lauderdale Circuit Court Clerk.  Larimore's sister, Mary taught at the Academy, as did Esther's other brother-in-law, Elder John Christian Ott (ca. 1845-1908). The school was a co-ed non-denominational school with an emphasis on the Bible from the beginning. However its emphasis gradually shifted to training men for the ministry in Churches of Christ. Larimore was inspired to found the school by Elder J. M. Pickens' Mountain Home Academy, at which Larimore taught briefly in 1868. After Mountain Home closed, Mars Hill was the only school of its kind among Churches of Christ in the area, and had students from places as far away as Corinth, Mississippi, and Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Elder Larimore operated the school from 1871--1887, at which time he closed it in order to devote his full time and energy to preaching. 


From the Lauderdale Times (Florence, AL), March 12, 1872, p. 3:

The Second Session of this INSTITUTION terminates on Thursday, the 14th inst. 


Exercises to commence at 8 o'clock, A. M. By the kindness of our friend, Ex-Gov. Patton, we are permitted to say that the exercises will take place in the second story of the FOUNDRY, near the Academy. The building, which is of sufficient size to accomodate a large audience, will be thoroughly prepared for the occasion. 

In addition to the delivering and reading of about twenty fine speeches and compositions, we expect one or more addresses from some of our gifted citizens. 

While devoutly thanking God for the signal success which has attended our feeble labors in connection with MARS HILL ACADEMY, we are impelled by a sense of duty to express sincere gratitude of our hearts for the kind encouragement we have continually received from our neighbors, from the very dawn of the school to the present.

We feel well assured, that the same generous encouragement will be ours, in connection with the approaching exercises. If so, the occasion will, by no means, be devoid of interest.

The friends of the Institution are determined to invest the occasion with an attraction which will be eminently interesting to those who love the good things which minister to the comfort of the inner man, by giving a DINNER, in which all, feeling so disposed, are requested to participate, and to which ALL ARE CORDIALLY INVITED. 


Respectfully &c.

From the Lauderdale Times (Florence, AL), March 19, 1872, p. 3:

Mars Hill Academy.

The closing exercises of the second session of this institution were exhibited to a large and appreciative audience, last Thursday. On account of its size, the upstairs room of the foundry was used for the occasion, Gov. Patton having kindly given his consent; evergreen decorations, the auditory, attentive and polite pupils, and the scholarly principal, seemed to transform the room from a machine shop to a classic hall.

This impression was confirmed, as, one after another, compositions and speeches were gracefully and correctly delivered. The subjects, as well as the matter of these, showed study in their preparation. Without an exception, they were good, reflecting on the students and on the teachers, great credit. Where all deserved praise, it should seem invidious to allude to the excellency of one; yet we are sure that both he rendering of one composition, and the train of ideas awakened by its subject, "Mother, Home, and Heaven," will excuse us for thus making particular mention of its merit. However, each of the twenty-seven pieces well illustrated, what Mr. Larimore said of his pupils--that they had been diligent in study, and correct in deportment.

Gov. Patton and Judge Wood [the two men referred to here are Gov. Robert Miller Patton and Judge William Basil Wood], made excellent speeches, expressing gratification at the progress of the scholars, at the conduct of the school, and the ability of the principal, and directing the attention of both scholars and parents, to the vital importance of education.

"The feat of reason," finished, another feast followed. There was enough, and to spare, notwithstanding that the sharpened appetites of a large crowd did justice to the sumptuous repast.

Mars Hill Academy, being now in a flourishing condition, it is natural to ask, To whom its success is due. The answer is, that the efforts of two gentlemen have chiefly supported it, and have carried it along, prosperously, viz: Rev. T. B. Larimore and Mr. John A. Thompson2, the one, the principal, and the other, in legal phrase, the "next friend," of the school. We extend to these gentlemen many congratulations, and hope that the present is a token of future good.



From the Florence Times-Journal (Lauderdale County, AL) May 7, 1873, p. 3:

The teachers and pupils of Mars Hill Academy went pic-nicking to the Muscle Shoals, Friday. Teachers and pupils away from duty, and the school room, wandered over the beautiful hills and valleys, and looked out over the grand, rushing river* with the highest enjoyment.

From the Florence Times-Journal, Wednesday, June 25, 1873, p. 3:


Nearly four hundred persons were present last Wednesday to see and hear the exercises of the present session of the school. Speeches and compositions in the order of the programme, the awarding of medals, honors, and an abundant dinner, occupied the day, and gave much pleasure to participants, patrons and guests.

The medal for the highest degree of scholarship and deportment, annually presented by Gov. Patton of Florence was awarded to Mr. Rufus P. Meeks, of Corinth, Miss.

The Medal for next highest degree of scholarship and deportment, annually presented by. J. A. Thompson, Esq., of Florence, was awarded to Miss Jane Young, of Lauderdale County, Alabama. [NOTE: John Andrew Thompson (1831-1873) was an Irish immigrant to America, and the brother-in-law of Julia Esther (Gresham) Larimor. His wife was Mary Jane Gresham. John A. Thompson was an attorney. He served as Lauderdale County, Alabama's Circuit Court Clerk from 1867-1873. Several of the Thompson's children were students at Mars Hill.]

Gov. Patton, who has for years been a generous patron of schools and colleges, and Mr. Thompson, who may be called the founder of Mars Hill Academy, deserve praises for their liberality, in encouraging by gifts of medals, the students of the school, to earnest endeavors.

All who attended the exercises speak in high terms of the principal, Rev. T. B. Larrimore [sic] and his general conduct of the institution.

From the Florence Times-Journal, December 24, 1873, p. 3:

Mars Hill Academy

The advertisement of this flourishing institution appears in the Times-Journal today. To the patrons of the institution we need say nothing of its merits. They are fully satisfied with the teachers the course of study and general management of the Academy. To the public we commend the institution, because we are personally acquainted with the excellent Principal, whom we esteem as an energetic, learned and pious gentleman, and because we have the evidences of our own observations to warrant a most hearty approval. But in a land of schools, success is the best evidence of merit. A token of the success of this institution, has been heard in the sound of saw and hammer for months, and may now be seen in the large and commodious buildings, lately erected. The number of applications for scholarships already received show that the school will be very large next year.

From the Florence Times-Journal, January 28, 1874, p. 3:

Mars Hill Academy
Supplement No. 2 to Circular. 

Only two weeks of the session have expired, and that time has been principally employed in organizing and getting the school in good working order. THAT work has been thoroughly accomplished, and the school is now in A very Flourishing Condition.

The Business Department! in which young men and boys are thoroughly qualified for business, Opens about the First of February

We expect to have next session, Vocal Music, Instrumental Music, Drawing and Painting, all entirely free of extra charge to all females who become our pupils.

During the present Session Terms to those entering the school after this date.

Day pupils, whether boarding at home or elsewhere (all books &c. included), $35.00
Regular Boarders entering after January 25th (all books, &c. included), 115.00
Those boarding only from Monday to Friday, without washing (all books included), 100.00 

Address T. B. LARIMORE,
Principal of Mars Hill Academy,
Florence, Ala.
Jan 21, 1874, 2w.

From the Florence Gazette (Lauderdale Co. AL) Saturday, August 5, 1882, p. 3:

We hereby tender a hearty vote of thanks--which we know would be unanimously adopted by the Lauderdale Democracy--to Rev. T. B. Larimore and wife, of Mars Hill Academy, for the use of their grounds and benches, on the occasion of the late barbecue.

[For more information, see FD Srygley's 1889/1890 Smiles and Tears or Larimore and His Boys and Wayne Kilpatrick's "History of the Church of Christ in Northwest Alabama, 1866-1880," in Life and Legend in Muscle Shoals History: The Journal of Muscle Shoals History, Vol. IX. 


1949 - 1950

Contributed April 2006 by J. Lee Mathis

First Grade
1st row, L-R: ____, ____, ____, ____, ____, ____, Linda Sue Anderson, Cornelia Dasher, Gary Kornman.
2nd row, L-R: Harry Schmidlkofer, ____, ____, Buddy Blanke, Jack Hice,
Mary Eckl, Gerard Flint, ____, ____,

Second Grade

3rd row, L-R: Glenda Schmidlkofer, Harry L Smith, Tommy Hazuda, 
Lee (Butch) Mathis, ____, Rena Millet, Frank Stack, Terry Haeger, Roy Sloan
4th row, L-R: Sister Mary Carmelita, Robert Chard, ____, my Margaret Leckenby, Julian (Buzzy) Bell, 
Rebecca Atwell, Barbara Jo Kotthoff, Eileen Gamble

Please note that the girls' names above are their family names. J. Lee Mathis 

Mars Hill Academy
St. Joseph School
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